Upgrading Charlie and . . . The Propeller Arrives!

AirVenture in Oshkosh is over so it’s time to get back to work! I’ll post a condensed version of the Oshkosh presentation on a separate page some time during the next few weeks once I catch my breath.

When we last saw Arnold and his family, they had just moved to Eglin AFB in Florida, where he was assigned to manage funds in the Air Force Armament Laboratory. Since he was no longer deploying all the time, he planned to start working on his record-setting airplane, but first he had one small project to do on Charlie, the family airplane.

Charlie was a Beech B35 Bonanza and had only enough seats for four adults. This was no problem when Arnold’s four daughters were small, but by 1969 they were too big to cram together into the two seats in Charlie’s backseat. Rather than buy another airplane, Arnold decided to equip Charlie with a second backseat. He designed a bench and installed it in the baggage compartment. There was still enough room to put small bags under the bench, and as long as the two girls in the backseat plus the luggage weighed less than about 200 pounds, everything would be fine. Of course, once the youngest girls got a little bigger and the rest demanded to take more luggage the solution would fall apart, but Arnold figured it would make Charlie work as a family airplane for a few more years. Plus, it gave him a chance to use his engineering skills that the Air Force seemed determined to waste, despite paying for his two degrees.

Arnold refreshed his mechanic’s skills by welding the frame for the seat and he found a local upholsterer to make the cushions. After getting a blessing from the FAA, he made the maiden flight with the family and realized he had forgotten that there was no window in the baggage compartment, so no one wanted to sit there. Fortunately, Beech already had a window kit that he was able to buy instead of heading back to the drawing board. A few weeks later, with the new window installed, the complaints from the back of the airplane died down.

With Charlie complete, another officer at Eglin presented Arnold with an opportunity to start building his dream airplane. All Air Force bases are full of pilots who can’t fly military airplanes for one reason or another, and Eglin was no exception. A second lieutenant who worked at the lab with Arnold had a civilian pilot’s license and owned a J-3 Cub that he kept at the airport in Crestview. The lieutenant decided to buy a new engine and propeller for his Cub and offered the existing ones to Arnold for only $100. The engine was a 65 horsepower Lycoming model that, even in 1970, was an antique. Parts were hard to come by, but at $100, it was too good a deal to pass up. Arnold decided to bring the wood propeller home to better protect it from the elements, and he found it fit nicely under the bed in the master bedroom. It was a good thing he didn’t try to bring the engine home — it wouldn’t have fit under the bed, and despite her own love of airplanes, Colleen probably would have objected to an engine as a centerpiece on the dining room table.

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